Little pillows of dough cooked in liquid, called dumplings, are part of multiple cuisines. Polish pierogies, Italian ravioli and all-American baked apple dumplings are examples of the vast ways the basic concept of a dumpling can be interpreted. These culinary delights appear with flour dough, pasta and potato all acting as wrappings. In some cases, such as in Southern chicken and dumplings or Italian gnudi, just the dough is cooked -- without a filling.
Asia produces some of the most well-known dumplings, including won tons, pot stickers and gyoza. The term "dumpling" can refer to just about any cuisine's version, but pot stickers are a type of Chinese dumpling distinguished by a specific method of cooking.
The pot sticker appears on most Chinese-American menus and can be purchased in the freezer section of many American grocery stores. They may have their origins in a happy accident, in which a chef who intended to boil dumplings left the liquid on the stove for too long and found crisped up dumplings stuck to the sides of the wok.
The pot sticker starts in the same way as another popular and traditional type of Chinese dumpling, called the zhao ji in Mandarin. This dumpling features a dough made with wheat flour that is then stuffed with minced meat or vegetables. The method for cooking the zhao ji varies -- you can find it fried, steamed or boiled. Pot stickers, though, have a specific preparation method.
Cook the dumpling after it's been assembled in a wok or shallow pan to make a pot sticker. Dumplings that are deep fried, boiled or steamed are not pot stickers. Pot stickers earn their name because as they cook, they stick to the sides of the wok.
Brown them lightly in oil -- usually peanut or vegetable -- over moderate to high heat in a shallow pan or wok.
Add enough water to come up the sides of the dumplings, but not fully immerse them. Cover, and allow the dumplings to cook about 10 minutes or until the filling is fully cooked.
Remove the lid and turn up the heat slightly so the water simmers and evaporates. Cook until the dumplings are crispy and brown on the outside.
You may be familiar with gyoza, a Japanese interpretation of a pot sticker. Japanese soldiers who enjoyed pot stickers when based in Northern China during World War II brought the idea for the dumplings home. Gyoza usually have a thinner wrapper than pot stickers and an even more finely minced filling. Pot stickers are usually small enough to finish in two to three bites, but gyoza are slightly smaller -- lasting just one or two bites. The method for cooking gyoza is the same as it is for cooking pot stickers, though.